MEMORY LANE: Buxton shivers in the big freeze of 1947

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1947, men walking into Dove Holes from Buxton along the main A6
Buxton Advertiser archive, 1947, men walking into Dove Holes from Buxton along the main A6
  • Harsh winter of 1947 featured ‘eight week ordeal by snow’ in Buxton
  • Railway proved vital for food and fuel supplies during big freeze
  • Longnor supply drop ended in tragedy as Halifax bomber crash killed eight
  • Cold snap was followed by floods and storms

Whenever weather forecasters talk about how mild our winters are now, my thoughts turn to the famously bad years like 1940, 63 and of course 1947.

My favourite picture of the winter of 1947 is actually from the following autumn and shows the vicar of Fairfield with some of the 105 babies he’d been asked to baptise.

At St Peter’s the year’s total broke the previous record by 25 per cent.

They had to make their own fun in those days.

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Snow ploughs waiting at Buxton in 1947. Photo: E.R. Morten.

Snow ploughs waiting at Buxton in 1947. Photo: E.R. Morten.

Almost 70 years on, 1947 remains in the public memory as the ultimate bad winter, even if the “big freeze” of 1963 was actually colder.

Perhaps it’s because the snow lasted for so long and came at a time of fuel and food rationing and general austerity.

The tales of snow up to bedroom windows and trains disappearing in drifts are true and they make recent bad winters like 2010 seem tame.

It’s sobering to remember that within living memory people used to die in the Peak District from such extreme weather.

The longest and harshest the spell of winter weather in the town’s history.

Buxton Herald

Beginning in mid January blizzards blew in almost every day until late March in what was described as “an eight week ordeal by snow”.

The road network was paralysed and many bus routes were shut for the whole period.

Buxton came to rely on the railway for its vital food and fuel supplies – officials credited three special coal trains that got through with saving the town from an even more serious crisis.

The line to Ashbourne was abandoned and all available men worked to clear drifts from the other routes.

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1947, German POWs digging out abandoned vehicles at Tom Thorn on the A6 outside Buxton

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1947, German POWs digging out abandoned vehicles at Tom Thorn on the A6 outside Buxton

Just in Buxton the council used 200 men for many weeks clearing snow. They included 100 German POWs.

They had three motor and seven horse drawn snow ploughs and at one point worked continuously for over 100 hours only stopping to refuel.

By March the frames of the snow ploughs were twisted from continuous use and hundreds of tons of snow had been tipped into the River Wye.

Up to 500 people a day queued at Buxton’s gas works to be issued with a sack of coke, transporting it home on sledges and prams.

Whilst most villages were cut off by road for very long periods, those near the railways fared better as food could be delivered between blizzards.

Two postmen who volunteered to walk to Hartington arrived in a state of exhaustion after seven hours.

Jane Butler submitted this photograph of snow in Sparrowpit, circa 1947.

Jane Butler submitted this photograph of snow in Sparrowpit, circa 1947.

Tragically attempts by the RAF to drop food supplies in the Longnor area on February 12 and 13 ended in disaster.

The weather was so bad the crews could not find the villages and a Halifax bomber crashed on Grindon Moor killing the eight men on board.

By March cattle in areas like Quarnford were starving to death but even using three bulldozers the authorities could not open the road over Axe Edge.

The farmers refused to have more aircrew risk their lives and small amounts of fodder were ferried up by sledge instead.

The NFU reported that across the country 1.4 million sheep had died.

The cold snap was followed by melt water floods and a storm that damaged many buildings weakened by the great weight of snow.

The Buxton Herald summed it up as ‘the longest and harshest the spell of winter weather in the town’s history’.

In a typically Buxton twist the winter was followed by the town’s worst ever water shortage.

A scorching summer and autumn including a five-week period without a drop of rain reduced the reservoir levels to less than a week’s supply and restrictions on water use lasted until just before Christmas.

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